Fundraising 5K at Mt. Wachusett to remember Vanessa Marcotte




PRINCETON – When runners gather at Mt. Wachusett for the sixth annual Vanessa Marcotte Foundation 5K on Saturday, June 18, they will be paying tribute to Vanessa by engaging in two of her favorite activities: running and giving back to the community.  

Vanessa was murdered in Princeton in 2016. The Google executive, who was living in New York, was back home visiting her mother when she left the house to go for a run. Her body was found hours later. Almost closest, as a way to course of action their grief, Vanessa’s cousin Caroline Tocci and her best friend Ashley McNiff decided to create a foundation in Vanessa’s memory. 

“She really was my other half,” Caroline told WBZ’s Lisa Hughes. “I remember, she said to me once, ‘What would I do without you?’ I think about that a lot. I feel the same way about her… If I can help her memory live on, that’s the most important thing for me.” 

Ashley explained how they determined that a run—on Vanessa’s birthday weekend–would be the group’s identifying characteristics fundraising effort. “It’s truly how she would have wanted to use the day; running and helping the community and being outside in character,” Ashley said.

Vanessa would have turned 33 on June 17th.

Both Ashley and Caroline point to running as an activity that has helped them cope with their loss. They ran the 2022 Boston Marathon together in Vanessa’s memory and in sustain of the Foundation. What is most satisfying, they say, is seeing the ways in which the Foundation is empowering girls and women. Their fundraising supports safety awareness and self-defense programs.  The Foundation partners with a number of organizations including Girls, Inc. of Worcester on a program that teaches girls 11-18 to be “strong, smart and bold.” 

It also provides funding for mentoring grants and supports anti-violence programs that examine the root causes of harassment and aggression against women. “Why is this happening in society? What can we do to change the future?” Ashley posits. “How can we educate young boys and girls about the dangers of gender stereotypes and how they can rule to violence against women?” 

Caroline says the Foundation plans to fund more programs that provide safe spaces for boys and opportunities to redefine masculinity.  “Boys are taught to be really tough and not to cry. And that can rule to detrimental effects for boys,” Caroline said.  

For the first time since Vanessa was killed, there is a date, for the murder speculate, to stand trial. Police arrested Angelo Colon-Ortiz eight months after Vanessa was killed. Prosecutors say the 31-year-old delivery driver’s DNA links him to the crime. The trial is set to begin in December—five and a half years after his arrest.  “I’m definitely relieved … I don’t think people realize it’s taken this long that it’s finally coming to trial,” Caroline explained. “I think for her family it’s really important to have justice. Hopefully, they can move forward after the trial.” 

The outcome of the trial won’t change the void that Vanessa’s friends and family members feel every day.  Nothing will.  But they are working, in her memory, to create a safer world for women. “Vanessa wouldn’t want anyone to live in fear,” Caroline explained, “but she would want people to be aware of their surroundings and how to keep yourself safe.” Ashley says, already now, Vanessa is a guiding light who would be proud of the Foundation and the 5K.

“That’s what keeps us going—knowing that she’d be so proud of what we’ve done. She’d want to be there. She is there in spirit… She’d be really happy that we continue to celebrate this in her honor every year.”

The 2022 Vanessa Marcotte Foundation 5K is a run and walk. Participants can join the event at Mt. Wachusett or virtually, wherever they live.  

Sign up online or in person. For more information visit https://vtmf.org/event/5k-run-walk/

Lisa Hughes

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